Our final day in Bath had come around all too quickly and after enjoying a delicious breakfast at the Hotel Indigo Bath we checked out of the hotel and set off to visit Bath’s number one attraction, namely its Roman Baths.
The baths are located in the centre of Bath next to the abbey and are open daily between 09.00-22.00 (standard tickets £27.50 weekend, £25.50 weekdays including audio guides). We collected our tickets from the Victorian reception hall which itself is beautiful with its rooftop dome decorated with images of the four seasons.
This is where the Romans built a magnificent temple and bathing complex on the site of Britain’s only hot spring which still flows with hot water today. The Roman Baths are below modern day Bath street level and extend under ground level beneath adjacent streets. The main features of the complex include the Roman Bath House, Roman Temple, Sacred Spring and finds from the Roman Baths.
We began our self guided tour on the upper terrace which overlooks the Great Bath. It was an impressive sight taking our first look at the bath’s centrepiece which is lined with statues of Roman emperors.
We then moved down to the edge of the steaming Great Bath itself and gazed in wonderment at where people would have bathed in Roman times. The magnificent pool is 1.6 metres deep and was in daily use for 400 years. Actor characters are dressed as real people who lived and worked there 2,000 years ago and help to bring the Baths to life, being happy to answer questions and to pose for photos.
Roman bathing was based around the practice of moving through a series of heated rooms culminating in a cold plunge pool at the end. It rarely involved swimming but instead the Romans would luxuriate in a tub of hot water in the hottest room known as the Caldarium.
We then explored the smaller bath areas, including the museum and the sacred spring which produces 240,000 gallons of water each day at a temperature of 46 degrees Celsius. Before leaving, we tasted the famous spa water which contains 43 minerals and has attracted visitors to the city for centuries for its curative purposes. Visiting the Roman Baths is a memorable experience and a ‘must see’ for first time visitors to the city.
Located nearby is Sally Lunns, a bakery and cafe which is home to the regional speciality Bath bun. There’s a small museum in the basement comprising of one room which displays the original kitchen used by the legendary young Huguenot baker Sally Lunn who created her first buns in Georgian times. A Sally Lunn is part bread, part bun and part cake, tasting rather like a brioche and is a local delicacy.
There was then just one more of Bath’s museums that we wished to visit before leaving the city, that of Bath at Work. This lesser known museum is tucked away just behind the Assembly Rooms and was established in 1978. It consists of a reconstruction of the 19th century engineering and soft drinks business of Jonathan Burkett Bowler which was founded in 1872 (Standard admission £10).
The main exhibition recreates the offices, ironmongery, cabinet maker’s workshop and bottling plant of J.B. Bowler’s just as it would have been until it ceased operating in the 1960’s. The museum is packed with exhibits including machinery, tools and bottles and provides an insight into the industrial heritage of the city. Other galleries focus on the city’s history with a cafe on its upper floor.
We then decided to take one final walk along the riverside and on our way popped into the Guildhall Market, an attractive small indoor market hall which first opened in 1863. It contains an assortment of stalls and cafes most of which seemed to be aimed at tourists with their gifts and souvenirs.
On leaving the market by its other door we just needed to cross the road to reach the river and Pulteney bridge. There are lovely views from here of the sweeping horseshoe shaped weir and of the bridge which was built by Richard Adam in 1769, one of only a handful of shop lined bridges in the world.
Close to the bridge lie the Parade Gardens (admission £2). The flowerbeds here are rated as among the finest in the country with the gardens having been former gold award winners in the RHS Britain in Bloom competition.
It was then back to the car to begin our journey home but after bidding farewell to beautiful Bath we had more plans for the afternoon. Located in Wiltshire just 35 minutes by car from Bath is the National Trust owned Lacock Abbey and village. Standard admission is £15 and free for National Trust members. We parked in a large pay and display car park located between the village and abbey and decided to explore the abbey first.
Lacock Abbey started life as an abbey and convent until the dissolution of the monasteries when the estate became privately owned. The abbey was founded in the 13th century and we were able to view its medieval cloister along with several rooms, most with vaulted ceilings.
The abbey is famous for its photographic links as it was here that William Henry Fox Talbot once lived. He was a Victorian pioneer of photography and inventor of the photographic negative.
It was a tiny image no bigger than a postage stamp of this oriel window at Lacock Abbey that made photographic history. On a sunny day back in August 1835 his on-going experiments with light and chemistry created the correct formula that would fix an image to paper in what was to become known as a photo negative.
Outdoors we explored the surrounding gardens and courtyard outbuildings before wandering along to view the charismatic small village.
The village has been the filming location for many films and television programmes including the BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It looks much the same as it would have done 200 years ago with its rows of pretty timber framed houses and small shops and is certainly worthy of a visit if you are in the vicinity.
Another interesting place to visit located just five miles from Lacock near to Chippenham is Bowood House and Gardens (Standard admission £15.20, open April-October). Privately owned, it is the home of the Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne and set within 100 acres of gardens designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Britain’s most famous garden landscape designer.
As it was 4.30 p.m. by the time we arrived at Bowood we were a few minutes too late to be able to tour the house. Instead, we viewed it from the outside and enjoyed exploring its grounds as they remain open in summer until 6.00 p.m.
Highlights of its parkland setting include its arboretum, lakeside Doric temple and cascade. We followed the path to the rocky cascade which was pleasant to view but was not in full force due to the recent lack of rain.
Strolling beside the lake was so nice and it would be an idyllic spot to sprawl out on a travel rug and enjoy a picnic on a warm, sunny day.
Hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to return sometime to look inside the house as I’m sure it would be very grand and a lovely place to see.
The car park was almost empty by the time we returned and looking at our map we couldn’t resist making one final stop at Caen Hill Locks. This flight of locks on the Kennet and Avon canal near Devizes is a feat of 18th century engineering. We parked close to the top of the locks so it was quite a lengthy walk downhill to the bottom. We wanted to view the locks from there so that we could take a photo looking back up at the flight. Even though we’d had a busy day and already walked a lot we wouldn’t have missed viewing this spectacle as we were passing nearby.
The longest flight of 16 locks was engineer John Rennie’s solution to climbing the very steep hill in Devizes. The locks and ponds were the last stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal to be built in 1810 and form part of a longer 29 lock flight at Devizes all within a two mile stretch. This is one of the longest continuous flights of locks in the country and is designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument with the same level of protection as Stonehenge.
Caen Hill Locks are considered to be one of the seven wonders of the waterways. We have already had the pleasure of visiting two of these other masterpieces and you can read my blog posts on them, they are the Anderton Boat Lift and the Bingley Five Rise Locks. Hopefully we’ll also get around to visiting the remaining wonders of the waterways before too long and perhaps taking a narrowboat holiday too!
This brought to an end our four day visit to Bath, Somerset and Wiltshire which I hope you have enjoyed reading. With the region’s scenic beauty and the varied selection of attractions and activities on offer, it’s a delightful part of the country to spend a few days.
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